Locusts are threatening our livelihood. What’s the preparation?

Sabitri Rai
July 3, 2020

Locusts are sure to wreak havoc on our livelihood, food security and economy. The government needs to take all-out efforts to control these crop-gobbling tiny monsters.

As the world is struggling to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, another threat to livelihood has emerged:The plague of locust swarms. By the end of 2019, East Africa was already experiencing the worst locust outbreak. But due to the larger threat of Covid-19, the locust surge went largely unnoticed.

By May 2020, however, locust infestations were on every tabloid and social media. There are disturbing reports of locus swarms destroying crops and threatening livelihood in Kenya, Iran, Pakistan and India. It is said to be the worst locust outbreak ever in 30 years.

Locusts are most destructive, aggressive, voracious migratory pests which look like grasshoppers. These can mass breed where a single swarm may consist millions of individuals.

Locust outbreak is emerging as the worst crisis of today. The infestations have been named as “locust plague” by scientists. This has already affected many countries.

Locust outbreak can be traced to the cyclonic disturbances which occurred twice in 2018 and 2019. Many scientists claim that locust infestation gained momentum when two cyclones namely Cyclone Mekunu and Cyclone Luban in 2018 brought rainfall to the desert of East Africa. That rain triggered vegetation bloom in arid regions which provided a favorable feeding and breeding ground to these desert locusts. These locusts brought high magnitude of destruction to crops mainly in East African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Series of cyclones occurred in 2019 in East Africa, Arabian Peninsula and South Asia which further gave favorable breeding ground for these voracious eaters. And at the end of 2019, cyclonic storm Pawan also kept the conditions favorable for locusts. Locust swarms then moved toward countries like Iran and South Asian countries like India and Pakistan. By June 2020, many South American countries like Argentina were also affected by locust infestations.

Misfortunes never come singly. Second wave of the locust plague boomed at the exact time of severity of Covid-19. It has already caused a huge economic disaster and it is likely to claim millions of lives due to famine, hunger and poverty in future. These swarms can devour crops that are stretched to hundreds of hectares of land in a day. It is said that a swarm of 80 million locusts can devour food that suffice for 35,000 people in a day. Thus it is going to cause food insecurity to the countries where agriculture is major source of income and livelihood for majority of inhabitants. Soon millions of people, who are already affected by the pandemic, may have to go hungry.

Locus plague is spreading like wildfires. And it is extremely hard to kill or control these insects because they are huge in number and can travel more than 100 kilometers a day, damaging every crop and plant that stands on their way.

Livelihoods have been threatened in Africa and South Asia as majority of nationalities of these hard-hit countries depend upon agriculture for their subsistence and for economy. These countries are already in deep economic crisis because of Covid-19 lockdown.

Some experts say regular and heavy rainfall is contributing to locust population explosion. While others say climate change has contributed to their rise.

Locusts have entered Nepal too and damaged crops in many parts of Dang and Palpa districts. But Nepal looks least prepared to drive away these insects. The locust management task force had submitted a report to the government a month back concluding that locust has changed its direction of movement away from Nepal and locusts are not likely to come to Nepal. This prediction has failed. Locusts are now in several districts of Tarai as well.

During the monsoon, locust infestation projection and monitoring can’t be done properly. It is difficult also because the monitoring has to be done from up the sky. Besides, Nepal also does not have needed experts to suggest measures to control locus infestation. No study has been done to find which pesticides are effective for controlling it.

However, as their movements are also impacted by wind speed, wind direction and temperature, monitoring their movement is possible. Thus Nepal should start extensive monitoring, controlling breeding areas and predicting its future breeding areas. Proper handling, storing of pesticides should be done to prevent contamination in the environment and avoid future hazards to human health.

Locusts are sure to wreak havoc on our livelihood, food security and economy. The government needs to take all-out efforts to control these crop-gobbling tiny monsters.

The author, a teaching Aasistant at Mechi Multiple Campus, is affiliated with Greenhood Nepal.

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